For all practical purposes, this book is the primary introduction to Ramon Llull available in English. Llull is a difficult figure to come to terms with, for various reasons, and I must admit that I left this book feeling a bit more confused than I was when I started.
There are two components of this book: Llull's writings themselves (not by any means all of them, which would require much more space, and Professor Bonner has already released a two-volume anthology in addition to this book) and Professor Bonner's commentary. From the very start, it's difficult for us to even begin to conceive of Llull's place in his own world. Llull was born in Mallorca, which had only been reconquered from the Muslims a few years before his birth, thus raising the prospect that he experienced some cultural crosscurrents in his youth. He spent his earlier years as a courtier, and more specifically as a troubador, which also could raise suspicions about his background. After a conversion experience, Llull became a tertiary Franciscan, a designation defining a semi-monastic state not necessarily in permanent orders; presumably, he was considered too old to enter regular orders (he was past thirty). He spoke Arabic fluently, and a great deal of his work is in Arabic.
Professor Bonner defines him primarily as having one major goal in his life: conversion of the Moors, and defines him as a "polemicist", in the terms of the day. On reading his works, one feels that the polemic is missing, and in fact he apparently has so much sympathy for Islam that it looks as if he may have been a crypto-Muslim himself. Llull himself cites Sufi influence in some of his work, and one of his major works - "The Book of the Lover and his Beloved" - bears a title that sounds like a direct translation from Arabic.
Llull's major life's work was his "Ars" (which apparently means something in this context like style of presentation) and it is in this area that the book really falls down, in my opinion. Professor Bonner makes constant reference to Llull's "Ars" without ever going into any specific examples as to what it is. It is apparently some system of thought that is supposed to explain all other systems of thought, and it involves the use of diagrams. Based on what I have found in other works it is true that Llull's "Ars" is apparently quite abstruse, and I can only presume that Professor Bonner didn't feel he had enough space to do it justice in this one-volume presentation. However, I was left with a sense that it was either something akin to the Jewish Kabbala or else a thirteenth-century version of Abraham Maslow's diagrams. Neither of these images leaves me any further on.
Llull was both praised and condemned by later generations as an alchemist, a charge which Professor Bonner dismisses by showing that the alchemical works attributed to him were forgeries. Llull has also been beatified by the Vatican, but he has never been canonized; one wonders whether this is was because of the whiff of alchemy in his background or whether his thought was too far out of the Christian mainstream, like Meister Eckhart.
Llull is also considered the founder of Catalan literature, a fact which Professor Bonner devotes no space to, and it would be interesting to place him within this perspective. All in all, I found Professor Bonner's explanations told me too little, and they didn't really prepare me for what I encountered when reading Llull's texts. It would be interesting to see if there is any serious study of Llull's work by a competent Hispanic Arabist on the level of Luce Lopez-Baralt or Father Asin Palacios.
I can't say that the book cleared things up for me. Having said that, I have no recommendation to the reader where he or she should go to find out more. Perhaps Professor Bonner's two-volume work provides more background, but to all appearances it is a specialist work and probably more than the casual reader would care to deal with. There are some websites in Spanish and Catalan that I've encountered that go into some detail regarding the "Ars", but I suspect some New Age revisionism in their content, which is certainly not a charge that can be levelled at Professor Bonner.
In the end, I opt for three stars for the work. If you're interested in Llull this is as good a place to start as any, and better than most, no doubt.